Q. I just completed chapter 7, Don’t Take It Personally, in your Buttons book. Holy cow, that is my life right now! Things have been tough on-and-off for the last 4 years, but with being stuck at home, resistance to distance learning, working as a single mom, and feeling isolated with no break from each other, I have hit an all-time low in my parenting. My son is off the charts angry (hitting me and swearing at me non-stop), disruptive, destructive, and disrespectful. I’m exhausted and handling all of it terribly. As I listen to your book, I’m seeing how my controlling-mom agenda and my own anger issues (never allowed when I was growing up) mean I just give in to stop the anger—both causing our relationship to spiral.
A. These are hard times. The only consolation is knowing you’re not alone. Many families have more resources and a two-parent household with help from family or tutors. But many are in your boat. I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself and your kids a break from the old norm. It’s essential to think of this time as an isolated, unprecedented, inherently stressful time that neither you or anyone else can control.
You are for once sharing that lack-of-control existence with your children. Now you know what it feels like to be your child. Let him know! But if you are still expecting his compliance to the old order, his stress level will rise as it appears to have done. Problems take hold when lack of knowing what to do and what is coming provokes fear and you react by grabbing for the control you don’t have.
Fears are many and not necessarily unfounded:
- My child’s education is going to take a major backslide.
- I can’t manage this alone.
- I made the wrong decision about school.
- I don’t know how to help him.
- Etc., etc., etc.
Fear is always under the anger
Both yours your son’s anger erupts from stress—he also fears he’s not doing it right and hates zoom school. He may be disruptive and destructive, but I’m sure he is not intending to be disrespectful—that’s your perception. When he explodes, tell yourself, he’s miserable. It is that misery that provokes his behavior. He’s having a problem, not being a problem. When you can see that, you will have more compassion for his struggles and you both can share how hard this is. But you must have compassion for yourself first.
Reframe your fears into a new mindset and begin to let go.
- Name your fears. The more you are aware of what you fear——the sooner they ease. Fears can be hard to identify. It’s often just a feeling of overwhelm. Stay with the feeling until you can put words to it. Jot down the words—I can’t do this alone
- Understand and accept your fears. They are yours. No one is to blame for them. Everyone has them. When they arise, acknowledge—there’s my fear that my kids are never going to catch up—say it out loud. Understand your fear is normal. Write it down. Notice which fears pop up the most.
- Let down. When you feel afraid or overwhelmed, do not try to cover it up for the sake of your kids. Let yourself drop into the overwhelm. Plop down on the floor and let yourself cry. Say, This is so hard. I’m really having a hard time. When you own your feelings and stop taking your frustrations out on your kids, you may get an unsolicited hug with a, It’s okay mom. They won’t be scared of your feelings if you don’t blame them on your kids. Then share what you’re both most upset about.
- You don’t and can’t have the answers. You don’t have to know why your son is so angry and aggressive. Just know that underneath he feels miserable. You don’t have to fix that. Just let it be. And have compassion.
- Schedule breaks for all of you and include exercise of some kind (walking the dog, jumping on a trampoline, doing a zoom class), something social (coffee with a friend on zoom, video games with friends), and something for your soul (listening to music, meditating, reading, connecting with nature).
- Plan some down time. Let your kids have an hour or two of TV time at the end of the day while you relax, read a book, have a glass of wine, simply veg before fixing dinner.
- Laugh. Watch a funny movie, tell jokes with your kids, silly dancing. Plan a dinner where everyone has their hands tied behind their backs. You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time. Laughter is the best drug there is.
- 8. Have a complaint session at dinner each night. Take 2 minutes each for what the worst thing was about that day—and the best.
- 9. Each night at bedtime, write in a journal what fears you had that day. Write worst-case scenarios. Ex. My kids will fail, never graduate, and be bagging groceries the rest of their lives. They will have all kinds of social issues and no friends. I will totally implode if I have to do this one more day and won’t be able to take care of my kids.
- 10. If worse case happens, what can you do. Ex. I can get a tutor. I can create a friend pod for playdates. Getting bad grades will change when this is over. I can call a friend for moral support.
The pandemic will not last forever. So what if your kids lose a year of normal schooling? They’re resilient. They learn all the time. Reimagine and think outside the box. But first you must take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself, give yourself a break from the norm. Connect with your kids, share your upsets, and laugh as much as you can.